I don’t often fence with doorknocking evangelists. They always (always) interrupt me in the middle of a much more interesting thought that I’m eager to get back to, and the more I engage, the more my brain is distracted for the rest of the day by all the witty things I should have said.
I also don’t like to embarrass people, even when they’ve come to my door asking me to please do so. In most cases, these are decent, harmless folks trying to do what they think is right, however misguided, and influencing few others. Many former doorknockers confirm that the practice is mostly about making yourself feel good about “carrying out the Great Commission,” and that slammed doors are taken as evidence of your own Christ-like conviction in a fallen world. “Each slammed door helps us come closer to our Savior,” wrote one Mormon missionary.
I don’t want to be part of someone else’s martyr complex, but it’s hard to avoid getting testy when somebody knocks on my door and says something deeply silly, then asks for my thoughts. Still, I usually manage to thank them for their time and suddenly remember that soufflé.
But earlier this month, something quietly snapped as I listened to two Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door. Actually, I only listened to one — there’s always a Talker and what I guess you’d call…a witness. The Talker had started by reading me a weirdly mundane verse from Psalms, then asked for my reaction. What follows is as close to verbatim as I can recall.
“To that? No particular reaction.”
She nodded, handed me a booklet titled WHAT DOES THE BIBLE Really TEACH?, and asked if she could come back to discuss it with me later in the month.
Well sure, I said.
Last week, she bested Jesus by coming back when she said she would. I was ready with a new twist on a very old approach.
“So…Dale, was it? Hi Dale. Did you have a chance to look at the booklet I left last time?”
“Oh yes!” I said with a bit too much enthusiasm. “I did. It was very interesting.”
She seemed pleased. “What was interesting to you?”
“Well it’s just full of answers, and it has these, these footnotes that point to places in the Bible. Did you know that?”
“So I started looking through the Bible because…” I paused for effect and lowered my voice. “Well, my family is having some difficulties, and we could really use some answers right now.”
The quiet one was different this time, a strange, moon-faced boy, about sixteen, with that mixed expression that always unsettles me. The mouth smiles, but the eyes seem to be looking at Voldemort in the shower.
“What kind of difficulties?” asked the Talker.
“It’s my son,” I said. “He’s sixteen. He’s stubborn and rebellious. When we discipline him, it just doesn’t seem to make a difference.” I looked up cautiously, expecting a change of expression as she figured out where I was going. Nothing. “And as I was looking for answers in the Bible, boom! There it was!”
“That’s how it is sometimes!” she said, eyes sparkling. “Boom!”
“Yes, boom! And I knew I could trust the advice, because the booklet you gave me said the entire Bible is ‘harmonious and accurate,’ with no contradictions. All the inspired word of God.”
“It is indeed.”
“That’s important to know, because the answer I found is in the Old Testament. I have this friend who said the Old Testament doesn’t count any more. He said the New Covenant of Jesus Christ replaced the Old Law.”
She shook her head. “Your friend is making a very common mistake,” she said. “He is interpreting the word of Jehovah God. You have to read the Bible exactly as it is, NOT interpret it. Otherwise there’s your interpretation, there’s my interpretation, and somebody else’s.”
“Right, we can’t have that,” I said. My porch was suddenly a barrel stocked with two fish, both of them dressed for a funeral for some reason. “So I went back to my Bible after I talked to this friend…and it fell right open to Matthew 5:17.”
I waited, nodding expectantly.
She smiled uncomfortably. “I’m not…too familiar with that passage.”
“Matthew 5:17, really?” I said, with honest surprise. “Right between the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer?” She smiled weakly. This was disappointing. If nothing else, JWs are usually scripturally literate. And this is not some passage tucked away in the Bible’s sock drawer — it’s from the Sermon on the Mount.
I closed my eyes and began: “Do not think I have come to abolish the Old Law or the Prophets…this is Jesus speaking…I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not the least stroke of a pen shall by any means disappear from the Old Law until everything is accomplished. Now I looked up ‘Old Law,’” I said, “and it means the first five books of the Old Testament.” I gestured around. “I don’t know about heaven, but Earth hasn’t passed away yet. So Jesus said the Old Testament is still relevant today.”
“That’s exactly right,” she said. “Every word is of Jehovah God.”
“And Jesus said, Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. I don’t want to be the least in heaven, and I’m sure you wouldn’t teach me anything that would make you the least in heaven, right?”
“I’m relieved to hear you say that. You brought the answer to our problem right to our door, and I’m so grateful. It’s in Deuteronomy, chapter 21, verse 18.” I reached for my NIV Bible, strangely close at hand, and flipped to it. “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town….Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.”